By Ikeugonna Eleke
The crisis between the Catholic Bishop of Nnewi, Most Rev. Jonas-Benson Okoye and some Spiritan priests over the ownership of St Martin of Tours Parish, took a new turn on Friday, when armed security men allegedly invaded the church.
Sources from the parish in Ihiala, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, said the bishop sent security men to forcefully take over the parish and chase away the priests.
St Martin of Tours Catholic Church has been in dispute for months now, since after Bishop Okoye notified the Spiritans managing the parish of his intention to create a new parishe and also send priests to manage the parish, while the Spiritans were posted out of the parish.
The priests had refused to vacate the parish, obstructing the efforts of priests posted to the area to take over. This led to the withdrawal of the faculty by the Spiritan priests by the bishop, making them incapable of celebrating masses in the parish.
The bishop, speaking through the Director of Communication of the diocese, Rev. Fr Martin Onwudiwe, in a press conference on Saturday, November 19, denied that the bishop sent security men to recover the perish.
He said: ‘They (security operatives) never invaded the place as said, they were rather sent there by the diocese to protect the church property, especially the Blessed Sacrament.
‘The security men were briefed by the bishop not to release gunshots or teargas anyone or even touch anyone. We were surprised to hear people insinuating that they were there to forcefully take over the parish.’
Onwudiwe said there had been recent incidents where the Blessed Sacrament had been stolen in parishes within the diocese, so it sent security men to avert such.
He also added that because of the briefing of the Bishop to the security operatives, they retreated when the priests and some parishioners mobilized a mob to attack them.
‘On November 11, the Blessed Sacrament was made away with from St Christopher’s Catholic Church, Ihiala, and same at All Saints’ Parish, Oraifite, on November 14. These are the kind of situations the bishop was trying to avoid by sending security men there.
‘Some parishioners mobilized and confronted the security men who because of the briefing by the bishop, rather retreated.’
He said the trouble in the parish was being engineered by a few individuals, whom, he said, were bent on fighting the bishop.